50 billion downloads out of 900,000+ apps.
That’s the last benchmark Apple passed with its iOS App Store.
And out of those apps, many are designed specifically to make your life as a filmmaker easier. Some apps are as simple depth-of-field calculators, while others are complex storyboarding platforms. With a growing library of apps targeted towards filmmakers, your iDevice stands to be one of the most useful tools in your kit — if you’re pairing it with the right software.
All it takes to use is an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad — tools that filmmakers are finding more uses for each day on set.
So get that iPhone out, hit the App Store icon, and get your fingers ready to search: I’m going to show you 5 cinematography apps definitely worth a download.
Price: Free • $19.99 Pro Upgrade
Shot Designer at the iTunes App Store
Shot Designer might be the only app you need to build lighting, camera, and blocking diagrams. It features a fluid, no-nonsense interface and, while it looks simple, is incredibly powerful.
As the developer says, it’s “camera blocking on steroids.”
What does that mean? It means you get not just a camera diagram, but a plan that can be animated, ties into a shotlist (that autopopulates), can feature storyboards, and will sync with multiple members of your crew/production team. With the pro upgrade ($19.99) you get additional features like the ability to export/save/print scenes and a desktop version of the software.
The app is available as a universal app (iPad + iPhone) for free, but, as mentioned above, has an in-app upgrade to enable things like archiving of shots.
If Shot Designer sounds intense, that’s because it is. But its beauty is the ability to distill powerful features into an intuitive interface. Overall, for anybody who likes to diagram and has been looking for a digital alternative to paper, Shot Designer should be at the top of your list.
Cinemek Storyboard Composer HD
Storyboard Composer at the iTunes App Store
Having been around for several years now, I wonder how Cinemek’s Storyboard Composer has slipped through the cracks of this cinematography apps series so far. It is, after all, a well-developed and fully-featured piece of software. With it, you can:
- Pre-visualize scenes/shots using real images or storyboard drawings
- Animate storyboards with custom time frames
- Add audio to said animations to give a better idea of pacing
- Provide story notes
- Add camera direction
- Re-arrange boards in case of an emergency change
You can do about as much with Storyboard Composer as you can with physical boards — even the ability to hone your pace and audio pitch and export it as a movie file to send to investors.
At $29.99, the price may be higher than most apps, but you can more than make up the cost when you consider the amount of time you may spend drawing boards yourself or the cost of hiring an artist to do them. Even for those filmmakers talented with a pen, the level of interaction you can add to the storyboards and the additional features provided over physical alternatives is worth the $30.
One last piece of advice: be careful when searching the app store for this app. There’s an older version that predates this HD version with less features (although half the cost). Choose wisely!
Price: Free • $9.99 Pro upgrade • $19.99 for all forms
Cinema Forms at the iTunes App Store
One of the greatest features of smartphones and tablets is their ability to consolidate tons of information into a tiny package. For instance, pilots now carry iPads instead of flight manuals. Camera crews might load a phone with camera manuals (or pocket guides!) to avoid wasting paper and space. It’s also wildly more convenient than shuffling through paper printouts.
So it only makes sense that an app like Cinema Forms exists to help producers and other production personnel ditch all the various paper documents they have for digital archives. They can now load up this app and log talent releases, shot lists, crew contracts, and other film production paperwork.
But the app isn’t limited to the production department. Various in-app purchases allow you to turn an iPhone or iPad into a notebook for continuity, camera reports, shotlists, and any other type of note, list, report, document or form you can think of.
You’ll have to spend $30 to get all the forms and all the features, but if you’re a filmmaker who’s constantly pushing paper, what’s it worth to you to trim down that haul?
Motion Tracking Markers
Motion Tracking Markers at the iTunes App Store
This is a simple app with one purpose: turn your iPhone into a tracking marker. The menu is spartan: you get one button, “Select a Marker,” and then a choice of 9 different types of tracking marks. Selecting one expands the image to fill your phone’s screen. The idea is that you then take your phone and put it into the scene where the tracking mark’s needed.
Of the markers available, two of them are green for green screen work while the rest are black/white. Unfortunately, there are no blue screen markers.
Still, for the one thing this app is supposed to do, it does it well. With one caveat:
Why not just take a picture off your computer and use it on your phone? Why pay $0.99 for the app?
I thought about that too — what’s to stop me from adding marking patterns to my camera roll and using that instead? The answer is subtle: the app keeps your screen from shutting off. As it currently stands, there is no option on the iPhone to stay always on — that’s done on the app level.
As I write this article, the app has been open without once dimming or shutting down the screen. That’s essential when you’re in the fast-paced environment of a film shoot. There’s barely enough time for rehearsals let alone time for a PA to run up to a tracking marker and “reactivate” the screen.
With that said, this app is worth it only if you want an emergency marker on hand at all times. Otherwise there’s plenty of practical options like camera tape, playing cards, or dollar bills. And, when it comes down to it, you’re paying $0.99 for an app that keeps your screen from turning off.
Then again, $0.99 costs less than losing that dollar bill taped to the green screen!
Green Screener at the iTunes App Store
Speaking of green screens…
…have you ever tried to light one evenly? It’s a trickier task than it seems and yet the ability to pull a clean key from a green screen is directly correlated to the ability to light it evenly.
That’s where this app, Green Screener, comes in.
Made by the same folks who released the above Shot Designer app, Green Screener uses a novel approach to image banding as a way to determine luminescence in an image. From their website:
Put simply, it takes your device camera and breaks the green channel (or red, blue or luminance) into 4, 8 or 16 bands. We correlate that to roughly 2-Stop, 1-Stop or ½ Stop resolution between the bands.
In reality, the keyer doesn’t know anything about Stops, all it sees is RGB values (256 levels in 8-bit color spaces), and all it cares about is the difference in RGB values. Ideally, we’d like there to be less than 32 RGB values (1/8th of the range) in total variation.
Because Green Screener isn’t completely accurate in a scientific F-stop sense. It’s simply RELIABLE in what it does, and it represents what a keyer sees much closer than a light-meter or a waveform-monitor.
So, if you still aren’t sure what’s going on, Green Screener takes your tablet’s camera, breaks down the image to have less color variables, and then shows you the bands (or strips) of the image as they relate to different levels of light. Just look at the screenshot below to see what the banding looks like:
Now when you light using Green Screener, you strive to keep that banding as even as possible across the backdrop. It’s an app that will best be supplemented with a trained eye and light meter, but for $10 this is a steal of a tool and a clever method for lighting a nice, even key.
(Also, because it will work on the green, red, blue, or luma channels, you can theoretically use this to light any colored surface evenly — including blue screens.)
An App Device is the New Leatherman
Think of the handy Leatherman. It has everything you need for physical hardware. It’s one of the first tools I pack into my pouch when I step on set. Screwdriver, knife, file, pliers, scissors, you name it and there’s a leatherman that has it.
The devices we have in our pockets, the ones that can run these apps, these are the new leathermans. They have everything we need. They eliminate the need to carry paper manuals and enable us to do complex timelapse calculations in a fraction of the time as a paper and pen.
The message? If you don’t have a smartphone that can install apps, you’re missing out on an ever-expanding toolkit to the tune of 800,000+ apps.
If you don’t want to pay for a wireless bill, understandable — then get an iPod Touch, or buy a used smartphone off ebay that’s unlocked. Keep it as a wifi only device. But by not owning one of these powerful computers, you’re missing out on a plethora of software that can make your job as a filmmaker easier, faster, and more efficient.